Government takeover of temples and appropriate view of Madras High Court

By pretending that the Government is ‘secular’, only Hindu temples are taken over but never a church or a mosque !

H.H. (Advocate) Suresh Kulkarni

1. Offences registered against Mr Rangarajan Narasimhan for criticising Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple management for misappropriation

The Police registered two criminal cases against Mr Rangarajan Narasimhan on a complaint filed by the Trustees of Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple. The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court touched on an important issue while acquitting him. Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple is an ancient temple of Vaishnavism in Tamil Nadu. In this regard, Justice GR Swaminathan has recently given a verdict. In this criminal petition, Mr Narasimhan is said to have harshly criticised the misconduct of the Government-run Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple on social media. This brought disgrace to the temple; therefore, the earlier Trustees of the Temple lodged a complaint against Mr Narasimhan and 2 offences were registered at the Srirangam Police Station under sections 500, 502, 505 (2) of the Penal Code and punishment under section 45 of the new Information Technology Act.

2. The petitioner felt that it is necessary to stop the malpractices in Government-run Hindu temples and restore their glory

Mr Narasimhan is a devotee of Sri Ranganatha Swamy. He says that Hindu temples are sacred places from where devotees get Shakti (Divine Energy) and Chaitanya (Divine consciousness). If Deities in temples are not worshipped and rules & regulations are not followed, the Administration of these temples should be changed. Lands offered to the Deity by devotees are usurped by other people. Ancient Idols of Deities in temples are stolen or smuggled. All this happens due to the neglect of temples by the Administration. There are more than a thousand such temples acquired by the Government in Tamil Nadu. There is not even a simple lamp lit in these temples. So, they need to be restored to their past glory.

All these points are mentioned in the judgement of the Suo Moto Writ Petition, which was recorded by the High Court Judges themselves. The judgement is mentioned in detail in 2015 as ‘Perimbi Narasimhan Gopalan Vs. Central Government and Government of Tamil Nadu’.

3. While dismissing the charges against Narasimhan, the Court raised important questions against the Government take over of the temples

Devotees get distressed and express their opinions through social media. With this in mind, the Judges fortunately considered it in a positive light and dropped both the registered offences. The first aspect to consider is that a victim can file a case under Section 199 of the Criminal Procedure Code. Under Section 199, no Court can take cognisance and register a crime so long as the victim has filed it. According to the petitioner, as per Sub-section 4 of Section 199, it requires prior permission of the State Government. Until then, the Court cannot take cognisance a crime.

At this hearing, the Judges said, “For how much time will Hindu temples remain under Government control ? Does the Government have any limits on the time you will control these temples ? The secular Government acquires only Hindu temples. When we say a ‘secular’ Government, have mosques and churches ever been acquired ? Have Governments ever tried to control them ? If a devotee narrates something out of spiritual emotion for God, we should look at it in a positive way. This is not a criminal matter.

In clarifying this aspect, the Court referred to several earlier judgements of the Supreme Court. “We are dropping both the cases as the criminal complaint was not filed by the right person”, the Judges said.

Although on the face, the Judges ruled in favour of the petitioners, the judgement has a different significance in many respects. In their judgement, the Justices say that the role of temples is important in our Hindu culture. In the current situation, some things are being ignored.

Control is being gained over the land donated to the temples by devotees for personal gains. Very ancient Idols in temples have been stolen and smuggled out of the country. Temple priests are being paid a pittance. Therefore, where thousands of temples are neglected, no worship is taking place. So, if you want them to restore these temples to their past glory, writing in this manner does not become a crime. We should consider the ardent devotion of the devotee. By pretending that the Government is ‘secular’, only Hindu temples are taken over but never a church or a mosque. What kind of secularism is this ? How long will the Government keep the temples under its control ?

4. Have respect for an honourable individual without stooping to a personal level !

“The defendant has received the Padma Vibhushan. Therefore, he should be given due respect”, said Justice Swaminathan of the Madras High Court. Another magnanimity of the Judge was in saying that Defendant No. 4 Mr Venu Srinivasan received ‘Padma Vibhushan’. He is a former Trustee of Sri Ranganatha Swamy’ Trust. When the restoration of this temple took place, Vice-President of India Venkaiah Naidu had come. He mentioned Mr Srinivasan’s devotion and yearning towards God. At that time, the manner in which Mr Srinivasan implemented the project of restoration and gave the temple extraordinary form was appreciated by the Vice-President himself. The Judge opined that the arguments should be made with due respect to Mr Srinivasan, without stooping to personal level. He should not be humiliated.

The vigilance shown by the Judges is commendable.

Verdict on the Temple Committee gives hope to Hindus

Judges consider an article on Mahabalipuram Temple published in Daily ‘The Hindu’ a Suo Moto Petition

1. A scholarly judgement was delivered by citing several earlier judgements of the Madras High Court and the Supreme Court. This gives hope to the Hindus. If temples, Hindu Deities, Saints are neglected, Hindus should go to Court and seek redressal. The Government had announced that it would appoint a 17-member Committee for the Mahabalipuram Temple to make it world-class; However, no action was taken later. An article on this was published in Daily ‘The Hindu’. The Bench of Chief Justices considered the article a Suo Moto Petition.

2. The Judges said, “Mahabalipuram was the capital city of the 7th or 8th Century of the Pallava kings. The Pallava king Narasimhavaraman ruled here. The style of temples built during his time should be restored to their past glory. These temples bear witness to the golden age of Hindu kings. The temple was built with carvings on magnificent stones. Many incidents from the Mahabharat are mentioned in this temple. The work of Arjun and Pandavs is also mentioned. The Government decided to declare such a temple a ‘World Heritage Site’, but nothing was done later. Therefore, a 17-member Committee should be appointed. The Committee should include officials from the Archaeology Department, historians, archaeologists, UNESCO representatives and high-ranking officials from several States”.

3. This judgement is over 200 pages long. Its 55th paragraph sets out many guidelines for the Central and State Governments. ‘This Committee should have 17 members and should be appointed within a few weeks. The Committee should survey the temples. After that, State-level and District-level Committees should be appointed. These Committees should study the temples under their areas and declare temples that are more than 100-years-old as heritage sites. Details of the land allotted to the Deities should be kept under the supervision of the temple Committee’, were some of the guidelines.

4. Land should be recovered from the farmers who are tilling at present. Money should be recovered from them and used for worship in the temples for specific rituals. If land has been usurped, criminal charges should be registered against them. Taxes or rent should be increased after 5 years. This money should be accounted for. Every temple should have a ‘strong room’. Precious ornaments of the temple and the money offered should be kept in it. Details should also be provided on – How many Idols of Deities are there in the temple, From which metal are these Idols made. If any Idol has been lost, stolen or smuggled, criminal charges should be registered. In all these cases, a separate authority should be created for criminal and civil cases. Its Chairman should be a District Judge. He should be accompanied by other retired Judges. “Mahabalipuram should strive for world class status,” the Judge said.

Devout Hindu advocates should file petitions in Courts against malpractices taking place in temples !

The golden history of our magnificent Hindu culture shows the prowess of the Hindu kings, their faith and devotion to the Deity; the magnificent work of the sculptors are reflected in temples in the South. To make the new generation aware of the splendour of these temples, devout Hindu advocates should consciously file petitions in Courts regarding Hindu temples and their lands, citing many good judgements of the Supreme Court. This will beget us the grace of God. This is a samashti seva. Every Hindu should contribute in this mission.

– H.H. (Advocate) Suresh Kulkarni (Founder Member, Hindu Vidhidnya Parishad and Advocate in Bombay High Court)